It was only a month ago that baseball experts were predicting that the American League Pennant was going to come down to the AL West leading Oakland Athletics and Central Division leaders, the Detroit Tigers.
Now, ironically, it seems the AL Wildcard play-in game could have those teams battling for the remaining playoff spot as the California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels have over taken the A’s for first place (and the best record in baseball) and the Kansas City Royals are leading the Tigers by a game-and-a-half. The Royals no doubt have to be grateful for the A’s recent slide allowing them to take 6 of 8 from them at the beginning of August.
Back in July, both teams scrambled to add to their pitching staffs as the A’s acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for minor league prospects causing Tigers Ace Jason Verlander to comment, “…when I saw that trade, I thought that they made that trade for us. No doubt about it in my mind.”
At the trade deadline, the A’s continued to improve pitching depth with All-Star Jon Lester – sacrificing power hitting and fan favorite Yoenis Cespedes in a deal to the Red Sox. The Tigers in-turn obtained 2012 Cy Young Award winner David Price in a three-team swap.
The season had been going well for both clubs. The A’s were 25 games above .500 sporting the best record in Major League Baseball. The Tigers were looking to repeat as Central Division Champs
With the change in club house chemistry the A’s offensive production seems to have fizzled, dropping from five runs per game before the trade to slightly above three after. The trade produced a vacuum in the middle of the A’s line-up. Cespedes was hitting .256 with 17 home runs as the A’s now search to supplement some offensive pop to replace the long ball right-handed threat they had.
The Tigers themselves dropped 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Royals in the AL Central, thanks to a 18-21 stretch since the All-Star break. In fact, Detroit sits a half-game behind the Seattle Mariners in the race for the second wild-card slot. For the Tigers, starter Anibal Sanchez is hurt and Verlander has not pitched well all season.
There’s still a lot to happen before things get decided. The A’s still face off against the Angels seven more times this season, with the majority of the season left for inter-divisional teams to battle one another.
As teams headed into September, the American League West race is perhaps the most fascinating in baseball. The loser of that competition, who just may have the second best record in baseball, faces a one-game wild-card for the right to survive.